Kansas police chief suspended in wake of police raid on local newspaper

Kansas police chief suspended in wake of police raid on local newspaper

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The police chief of a small Kansas town was placed on suspension Thursday after his department conducted a controversial raid on a local newspaper last month which sparked criticism from press advocates over whether it violated First Amendment rights.

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s suspension was reported Friday by the Marion County Record, the same newspaper that was raided. Marion Mayor Brogan Jones confirmed the suspension to the Associated Press on Saturday.

Police raided the newspaper on Aug. 11, seizing personal cellphones, computers, the newspaper’s file server and other equipment. Police also raided the home of Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper. Meyer collapsed and died at her home the following day, Aug. 12.

According to the search warrant, Cody alleges that reporter Phyllis Zorn illegally obtained driving records for local restaurateur Kari Newell. According to the Record, Newell had accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining drunk driving information about Newell and supplying it to Marion Councilwoman Ruth Herbel.

There are also questions regarding when the search warrant was approved. Bernie Rhodes, an attorney for the newspaper, told CBS News in a statement in mid-August that the three probable cause affidavits that were the basis of the warrant were not filed in state court until Aug.14, three days after the search was conducted.

The affidavits, which were obtained by CBS News, claim to have been signed by Magistrate Judge Laura Viar on Aug. 11.

“While the affidavits purport to be signed before Magistrate Viar on the day of the illegal searches, no explanation has been provided why they were not filed prior to the execution of the illegal searches,” Rhodes said in a statement back in August.

About a week after the raid, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey announced that there was “insufficient evidence” to justify the raid, and said he had directed police to return all seized material.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is conducting an independent investigation of the incident. According to the Record, Mayfield had initially been unwilling to suspend Cody until after the bureau had released its report of the investigation. That report has not yet been publicly released.

The federal Privacy Protection Act protects journalists and newsrooms from most searches by law enforcement, requiring police usually to issue subpoenas rather than search warrants. 

— Aliza Chasan contributed to this report. 

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